The Immersion of Florence
Grace, Spring 2024, Florence
March 19, 2024

Arriving in Florence my first week I was overwhelmed with the number of activities, restaurants, cafes, libraries, museums, and artwork to see. I thought to myself, “How am I going to see everything in 3 and a half months?”

Before coming to Florence, I didn’t do my research. I was surprised at how much of a tourist town Florence is. I was shocked at how much history there is in one city like Florence.

From my walking class: San Miniato al Monte Church

It is the simple things that have made my time here worthwhile. In my first three weeks here, I was enrolled in a class that was called: Food, Wine and the City: Neighborhood Walks. This has been the best class I’ve ever taken.

Learning outside of the classroom in Italy is something I will forever be grateful for. Every day we would walk around the city of Florence and go into hidden restaurants, libraries, churches, and cafes that I would’ve never seen had I not taken this class. We were able to taste foods and drinks at the end of every day, some that are real authentic Florentine foods. We tried bread without salt, the stomach of a cow, rice balls, espresso, wine, and all sorts of new pastries.

In addition to taking this class, I wanted to continue immersing myself in Italian culture once it ended. Since this first 3-week course I’ve done a few Viva activities through SAI such as Pizza Making, Italian Food Tour, and two-day trips. These activities were awesome and we were able to learn how to make a pizza as well as taste some more of the best food spots in Florence. The day trips were an experience I would’ve never done, had SAI not coordinated them for us.

My roommates and I are on the SAI Day Trip Fiesole hike!

The first-day trip was a hike to Fiesole, a town right outside of Florence. We took a quick bus ride to the most magnificent views in Florence. Our tour guide, Melissa, was so knowledgeable about the history of Fiesole and we enjoyed her tour. The hike was about four miles and the restaurant at the end of it was the grand prize. Homemade gnocchi, wine, bread, and pistachio cream cake were to die for. La Sosta Del Rossellino was a family-owned restaurant and I hope to go back in the future.

My roommate and I at the San Gimignano SAI Day Trip

The next day’s trip was to San Gimignano and Terme Baths! I had been to San Gimignano previously, but it wasn’t a guided tour, so I was eager to learn more about the old, historic town. As soon as we arrived, we had a bit of time before the tour started, so my roommates and I sat down at a cafe to grab a coffee and croissant. It was definitely needed for the long day ahead of us. We headed to the tour and learned about the Black Plague, who San Gimignano was, and what the town is known for Vernaccia wine and saffron. We then entered their incredible church, St. Fina. Here, our guide explained some of the meanings of the paintings, one being about Lucifer, Jesus, and Job. He then brought us up top to one of the most beautiful views I’ve seen so far abroad. It was a clear, sunny day and was just under 60 degrees, making it all the better. Heading down to the piazza, we had some free time where we shopped a bit, and ate some of the best gelato in Italy. SAI provided us with sandwiches from one of the local spots in San Gimignano, and we were quickly on our way to the Terme Baths! The baths were something I would’ve never done without SAI. It was a lot of fun with my roommates as we swam for an hour or so in an enormous hot tub. Our SAI girls (Emma, Lidija, and Hannah)  this weekend were also what made the experience so favorable.

As well as the SAI events,  I’ve pushed myself to take different routes home and to frequent walking as a part of my daily activity. There is too much to see, and one of the best ways to familiarize Florence is through taking different walking routes.

My professor in the walking class took us to some incredible churches and cathedrals. Growing up Catholic, I was excited to revisit these churches on my own time. The other night my roommate and I attended an Italian mass at Santa Maria Novella, and we were in awe with the church. We’ve made it a routine to try a new mass every week, as there are so many beautiful ones to see and so much to uncover. Santa Maria Novella had relics from St. Catherine of Siena as well as beautiful paintings and tombs of cardinals.

Frequenting the stores around my apartment has been a great way to become friends with shop owners and learn Italian. My roommates and I greet the bakery workers closest to our apartment every single day. One night they gave us leftover croissants that they had made! It is so great talking to them and since they don’t speak much English, it challenges us to learn more Italian.

So, my advice is to walk everywhere, try a new restaurant, meet new people, and go into places you normally wouldn’t go into.

Written by: Grace, Spring 2024 Florence student, from University of Kansas

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